Saint Thomas’s Church
Thumpoly, Kerala, India
If the special circumstances that surround the construction of Saint Thomas’s Church at Thumpoly can explain its enormous size, the presence of Giacomo Fenicio as responsible for the project explains its coherent architectural programme and its importance in the evolution of architecture in the region. Giacomo Fenicio was appointed as head of Saint Andrew’s Mission, where this church stands, in 1584. Having been a professor of mathematics and astronomy in the King of Kozhikode’s court, this cultivated Jesuit priest was responsible for the construction of several churches in the region during his life, as we learn from various letters written by Jesuits of the time. The establishment of friendly relations between the King of Cochin and the mission led to authorisation being given in 1590 for the old church to be replaced with one in stone and mortar, the construction of which began with great pomp, including the presence of the king himself, in 1602. Two of the façade’s five sections are in the form of towers which strengthen the articulation and access the two-storey lateral galleries, which are in stone, have a barrel vault and a veranda on the second floor divided by thick columns. Their design reveals affinities with the first examples of a galleried façade in civil architecture, where the inspiration in two-storey cloisters is more evident. The tops of the towers have been altered and today do not stand out so much; they are an exception to the common typology of Indo-Portuguese churches in the south of India and accentuate Giacomo Fenicio’s experimental approach. The interior is of a wide nave and all the emphasis is on the high altar, the triumphal arch of which is flanked by two altars with alter pieces. The inside of the lateral walls have a decorative scheme in plaster with a clearly architectural taste. While this church at Thumpoly, in line with most religious architecture, underwent alterations in the design of the doors and windows, the geometric rigour of its architectonic programme and the careful articulation between the nave, galleries and façade remained from the original structure and conception. As a testimony to this fact, the rear of the towers of the façade maintains the old windows with circular lintels and a classic frontispiece topped by cannonball finials typical of Portuguese architecture, which allows us to assess the original 17th century design of the church. As a church with a façade divided into five sections and with lateral galleries conceived at the beginning of the 17th century, Saint Thomas’s at Thumpoly allows us to establish a first crucial landmark for the study of the evolution of this type of church that is particularly interesting in the history of Indo-Portuguese architecture and which developed with unusual magnitude in the “mountain Christian” community.